In CREW CUTS, the Rough Cut staff are given a simple question about their deepest feelings on film, life, and beyond. To start off our series, we’ve asked for everybody’s thoughts on the media that has kept them sane during their respective corona-era lockdowns and breakdowns.
What’s the best piece of media you’ve discovered during self-iso?
I’ve been spending my iso-time catching up on the reading I’ve missed in the last decade of my life. This year I discovered Virginia Woolf’s grand, perfect prose, Stephen King’s remarkable (male) characterisations, John Lee Carré’s bureaucratic intrigue. I disappointed myself in disliking Ursula Le Guin’s dense, idealised world-building, Italo Calvino’s continuous use of the second person, and Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (answer: nothing of any substance).
And revisited my absolute favourite: Helen Garner’s razor-sharp social and personal observations – though her observational law writing falters in comparison to Bri Lee’s brilliant Eggshell Skull, a scathing, critical voice scouring the heart of the Queensland court system. I also re-read Murakami’s wistful, magical novels — fantastical, surreal yet prosaic events that absolutely demand screen adaptation (a challenge I raise to everyone, except… Lee Chang-Dong).
Like anyone with a brain, I watched The Sopranos (1999-2007) during the pandemic, and there’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t been said already — it’s the best, I love James Gandolfini, did you know Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa have a podcast now, et cetera. I also used this time to re-watch my other favourite show, Twin Peaks (1990-1991) (and Twin Peaks: The Return ), which continues to be incomparable, inimitable, and somehow simultaneously one of the funniest, scariest, and most beautiful things ever made.
After those essential and transformative viewings, here are some other exciting TV discoveries I’ve made during the pandemic:
Ramy (2019 – ). The best series to come out of New Jersey since The Sopranos — and a 2020 standout. Charming, impressive, and somehow wildly relatable to me as a Greek Australian viewer. Features a glorious soundtrack (two words: Arabic trap.)
Escape at Dannemora (2018). Does the magical thing of putting Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette, and Paul Dano together and having them all bring their A-game for like eight hours straight. More exciting than its poster would suggest.
Catch-22 (2019). A miniseries adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1961 satirical war novel of the same name, starring Christopher Abbott as the lead (a well-deserved showcase for him — he is astounding in the role). Bleakly comic and straightforwardly distressing, it’s hard to put the tone and style of this one into words.
Perpetual Grace, Ltd. (2019) Cinematographer Nicole Whitaker should’ve at least received a nod at the Emmys. Strong cast featuring many special boys, including Jimmi Simpson as the perfect-for-a-desert-noir lead, and the great Damon Herriman doing magic and stealing your heart. It’s a story of grifters, killers and weirdos in a dusty landscape, written in its own syntax — very Coen-esque and cool.
Search Party (2016 – ). The entire cast is great, but Shalita Grant and Meredith Hagner steal the show.
The Thick of It (2005-2012). What took me so long? Peter Capaldi and his brilliant performance as Malcolm Tucker have been living rent-free in my mind since I watched this. The alchemy between Armando Iannucci and writers like Jesse Armstrong is wonderful.
Television is where been my heart’s been at during the pandemic, but here are some of my favourite film discoveries:
In the Loop (2009) — more of my favourite little gay mercenary Malcolm Tucker, but this time it’s also got James Gandolfini! My little brain cannot take it!
I’m always thinking about animals and the ecosystem, so had a good time watching First Cow (2020), but an even better time watching My Octopus Teacher (2020), a heartfelt and touching story of inter-species trust and ecological balance.
On a Michael Winterbottom discovery journey, I watched every film in The Trip (2010) series for the first time, followed by 24 Hour Party People (2002) — which is great for a number of reasons but is worth watching for Robby Müller’s cinematography alone.
After watching a bunch of Billy Crudup movies including Almost Famous (2000), 20th Century Women (2016), and Stage Beauty (2004), I came to the conclusion that he is the prettiest person alive no matter what age, era, or gender he’s playing. (It must also be said that 20th Century Women was one of the most enthralling and breathtaking things I’ve ever seen, and Stage Beauty was a confused and horny mess, and I love them both.)
A standout stand-up — Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One (2020). Beautiful, moving, and vulnerable, it’s part stand-up comedy and part live music show. Entirely great.
I would also like to mention that I’ve been watching random Kieran Culkin movies because I miss Roman Roy, and I want you to know that he dresses up as a goth vampire in Infinity Baby (2017) and plays a 17-year-old proto-Roman in Igby Goes Down (2002), which also features his Succession co-star Eric Bogosian. Thank you for reading.
A few months ago, I started hearing more about the NBC detective series Columbo (1968-1990), a boomer TV classic which I really only knew of through Gen X comedian’s squinting impressions. I gave into my Baader-Meinhof complex and have since found the show to be medicinally comforting.
In a year of vast and painful change, Columbo has been a real safety blanket. It’s lengthy and placid odysseys into a world where cops are good, violence is graceful and safe for all audiences and the retro caucasian fashion is OFF the freakin chain!!! carpeting, everywhere!!!!!
Every episode starts with the murder, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s solved, every time; watching all of its 10+ seasons from 1968 to 1990 must border on self-hypnosis.
Since every day is Thursday now, I’ve found comfort in little pieces of media that provide some semblance of structure in what has otherwise been a completely temporally disorienting lockdown period. A pre-corona daily staple was the NYT Daily Mini Crossword which has taken up new levels of importance, now a much needed 12pm burst of pleasure (or pain — they supposedly grow more difficult as the week progresses) that occupies about a minute (or less, if you’re a good player) of your day. Rough Cut contributor Zach Karpinellison likes to think he’s the best crossword doer on the app, but I’ve remained diligent in my routine while Zach likes to pop in and out at random. Best of all, the app was recently updated to include another puzzle game, Spelling Bee, where you’ve gotta make as many words as you can from the provided letters, and now I’m hooked on that. Good lil brain exercises.
Many people have started a Twin Peaks lockdown rewatch; I am not yet one of those people. But I am one of David Lynch’s little Weather Report babies, tuning in every day to his YouTube channel for an update on LA’s blue skies and golden sunshine. I’ve remained stringent in my viewing for just over — and remain appreciative of his bite-sized semi-hopeful messages (“I’m wearing dark glasses today because I’m seeing the future and it’s looking very bright”). Since I’m many hours ahead in Australia, I don’t get the report until the next day, a little after 12am, so there’s some weird temporal dissonance at play there, but it mostly just makes me long for a coffee in the wee hours of the night.
Obviously, I’d be remiss not to flag the 2X-consecutive-weeks-and-still-going Static Vision livestreams that have given some framing to my erratic viewing patterns this year. Friends of the pod Felix and Conor have worked themselves into the ground with this project, kicking things off in March with a then once-off lockdown-themed livestream that has expanded in so many exciting ways. Through their curation, I’ve discovered new all-time favs (Eugene Kotyalarenko’s 0s & 1s ), been enraptured by the likes of Jobe’z World (2019) and Empty Metal (2018), and watched a movie where a foul-mouthed puppet has sex with a human (Black Devil Doll from Hell ). Paul Schrader popped in for a chat one week and grumbled completely off the dome about his arduous experience on Dying of the Light (2014), trash talking all the film’s producers along the way. Just one of many cooped-up nights to remember.
When I was 15, I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn. Her beauty, her grace, her signature close-cropped pixie cut and fringe I 100% tried to recreate myself (to varying degrees of success). Over the years, while my love for her has not waned as I grow older (with a tattoo of her on my arm, I am literally wearing my heart on my sleeve), I began to recognise that Audrey is also quite an entry-level gateway into classic cinema and old Hollywood stars. The iconic images of Breakfast at Tiffany’s being synonymous with sophistication in a young girls bedroom/college dorm and Blair Waldorf dreaming in Hepburn references will do that to you. But as I grow and delve more into the cavernous world of cinéma, each day there is more to discover.
This year I have been discovering Elizabeth Taylor. It started with the 1956 George Stevens epic Giant, mainly because it was the last of James Dean’s leading three films I hadn’t seen, plus my love for Rock Hudson, whom I have also been exploring since taking a class on melodrama last year. While it was these two men who initially drew me to the film, it was Taylor by whom I was completely struck. A woman amongst the sprawling, dusty landscape of Texas, of the large stately home in the middle of nowhere. For the majority of the film, a woman on her own, standing her ground, and refusing to be dwarfed by the film’s size and the masculinity around her. Here is a giant, all on her own.
The film was included in a 4-disc DVD pack called The Elizabeth Taylor Collection, picked up cheaply at JB Hi-Fi and, now that I have more time to shift through my DVD collection, I have since been making my way through it. From Giant came Father of the Bride (Vicente Minnelli, 1950), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nicholls, 1966). Each of the films are from such different points in her career, but with each performance there is a steeliness behind her eyes, a stillness to her portrayals but strength in her voice, which all erupts in the ferocious Virginia Woolf. I am entranced by her, under her spell. I wish to know more. This is the beginning of a wonderful love affair.
Honourable mention: On a completely different note, I wanted to give a special shout out to 92nd Street Y’s recording of ‘HBO’S Barry: A conversation with Bill Hader and John Mulaney.’ This video in particular, I joke, “cures my depression.” In a semblance of a panel meant to be about Hader’s new show Barry, what we get for an hour and a half, is two best friends, shooting the shit, going wildly off topic 80% of the time, and talking with such openness about filmmaking, anxiety, and how much they love to make each other laugh. Not even one minute in, does Hader dissolve into gleeful giggles for the first of many times. Pure serotonin!
I wish I had a more consistent brand when talking about all the things I’ve been watching (or in Val’s case: reading) during my summer-long Irish sabbatical, in between long pebbly coastal walks, exploring woodland greenery and incorporating words like ‘craic’, ‘grand’ and ‘class’ into my vocabulary. But I can’t not say it’s not been at least interesting to jump between my short-lived obsessions (a symptom of my also short attention span, who can say?).
In April, it was Hitchcock, truly and finally discovering his genius versatility across genres — as well as 30s/40s Hollywood screwballs, particularly the whimsical joys of Mitchell Leisen’s films, Midnight (1939) and Remember the Night (1940), which warmed me up enough from the inside to believe there’s some type of hopeful, other side to this year. In May as we enjoyed unusually blue-sky sunshine weather and I splashed in icy, calm Irish waters, it was a taste of Chinese cinema (the angsty simplicity of Spring in a Small Town (1948) and the striking colours of Yellow Earth (1984)) and Hong Kong cinema — with a lot of ‘firsts’: Bruce Lee, Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, John Woo.
September’s been a bit dry on the film-watching front — but just as the leaves turn orange and the temperature begins dropping — there was no better excuse but to binge watch all two seasons of Succession and marvel about how it might be the one of the best TV shows I’ve seen in years. The world-building of this morally abhorrent yet odd, comically family is a masterclass in character-writing and dialogue; so much so I might just rewind, make a cuppa and start from the beginning again.
This may just be the humiliating High School nightmare I just had talking, but my real feelings are real. I’m doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion — in which Sparkle Motion is cinema. Why does no one have the string-cheese textured gapping balls to admit Cinema Is Done?
As if we need reminding from a neglected cinema chain to cling to the church – in this case Mel Gibson intros King of Staten Island (2020) with a video (Dendy is responsible) cheering us to ‘keep watching movies but it’s official: all hope is lost. No amount of Paul Valery wiki-quote wisdom can save me from the bleak realité, the vérité about cinéma. C’est fini! I haven’t forgotten that Joker (2019) won Venice, I haven’t forgotten The Image Book (2018), and I certainly haven’t forgotten that despite a pandemic shutting down an entire industry we’re subjected to re-runs of Jaws (1975) and Casino Royale (2006) at a cinemaplex with ‘Ritz’ in its name. You. Should. Be. Outraged.
Without sounding like an accelerationist doomsday prepper it’s unwise and dishonest to expect/desire the normalcy of what was arguably the most mind numbing year in cinema. Year? Try ever-since-Todd-Phillips-happened. From Atlantiques (2019) being buried in the urn (Netflix) to Elizabeth Debicki not responding to my Subpoena: I am extremely brave in being the Fisher & Sons funeral home to Cinema.
It’s done, over, bye. I’m not looking to blame any one person, I’m looking for crazy love, something cinema has been lacking in my most humble opinion.